Natalie Graham wins the 2016 Cave Canem Poetry Prize


Natalie Graham (photo credit: Cynthia A. Briano)

Congratulations to Natalie Graham on winning the 2016 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for her collection Begin with a Failed Body.

Graham is currently assistant professor of African American studies at California State University, Fullerton. She earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Florida under the direction of William Logan and PhD in American studies from Michigan State University. Her research interests include black music history, popular U.S. music and culture, poetics and identity performance, and southern literature and culture. She is a Cave Canem Fellow, and her work has been published in Callaloo, New England Review, Valley Voices, and Southern Humanities Review.

The University of Georgia Press will publish Begin with a Failed Body in the fall of 2017.

“Graham’s intellectual tentacles are long, and her imagination is generous,” said Kwame Dawes, the judge for this year’s prize. “She is constantly searching for something to pull into the body, to feed the body. Her verse is terse, marked by technical compaction, and yet it is simultaneously grandly encompassing and voracious in its interests. In her we have a poet acutely sensitive to the ways of the body, its betrayals, its pleasures, and its unknowable selves. She is an exciting new voice, but this claim of ‘newness’ seems almost trite, as there is nothing ‘new’—at least not in the sense we might apply it to a novice’s work—about the authority, wisdom, and daring we find in these poems.”

Established in 1999, Cave Canem is a first-book award dedicated to the discovery of exceptional manuscripts by poets of African descent. The participation of distinguished judges and prominent literary presses has made this prize highly competitive. See the series page for more info and the books by previous winners.

2016 Honorable Mentions include Nandi Comer’s Tapping Out and Heidi Richardson’s Praise of the Black Narcissus.

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